Mayor-elect Zamzamin Ampatuan: “Democracy works in terms of real governance”

RAJAH BUAYAN, Maguindanao  (MindaNews/27 May) – If he had his way,  Engr. Zamzamin Lumenda Ampatuan ,  the newly-elected mayor of  this town, would rather be known by his first name.

“Does it matter if you are an Ampatuan? Whether you are good or you are bad does not matter. The point is whether Zamzamin is good or bad. That’s the real point,”  the former Energy Undersecretary said.

Currently the barangay captain of  Zapakan and head of the town’s Association of Barangay Captains,  Zamzamin is one of six elected Maguindanao mayors surnamed Ampatuan,  four of them wives of  the sons of Andal Ampatuan, Sr., his father’s cousin.  Ampatuan, Sr. is detained with his sons in connection with the November 23, 2009 massacre of 58 persons in Ampatuan town. The fifth mayor is the son of co-detained Akmad, husband of Ampatuan Sr.’s eldest daughter.

Except for Zamzamin who was elected to a first term, the rest were elected to a second term.

Engr. Zamzamin Ampatuan, mayor-elect of Rajah Buayan, Maguindanao. MIndaNews photo by Toto Lozano
Engr. Zamzamin Ampatuan, mayor-elect of Rajah Buayan, Maguindanao.                                    MIndaNews photo by Toto Lozano

The 50-year old civil engineer stands out not only among the Ampatuan mayors but also among all of Maguindanao’s elected for having previously served in top appointive national posts, the last of which was as Energy Undersecretary.

He was 26 when President Corazon Aquino appointed him Director of the Department of Trade and Industry in  Maguindanao in 1989.  In the Arroyo administration, he served as Executive Director of the Office of Muslim Affairs, lead convenor of the National Anti-Poverty Commission,  Administrator of the Southern Philippines Development Administration and Energy Undersecretary.

Zamzamin, who ran under the United Nationalist Alliance, is a son of  Datu Ishak Ampatuan and Bai Puti Lumenda Ampatuan. His parents served  as municipal and provincial officials long before his father’s cousin, Andal Ampatuan, Sr., rose to fame and notoriety. His brother Yacob was elected to a third term as mayor of this town in 2010.

Real governance

On this Friday morning four days after the May 13 polls and two days after his proclamation as winner by 176 votes against his  closest rival, Zamzamin told MindaNews that family names should be “secondary in terms of who you really are as a person” because even siblings are different from each other.

“You can probably look the same, your skin might have the same color, your features but the characters differ. The Philippines as a whole will not progress when we put (people in) a box because democracy doesn’t work in terms of perceptions. Democracy works in terms of real governance,  how leaders perform. In my campaign, I said, look at my name. I am Zamzamin. When I become mayor, I am Mayor Zamzamin.”

“The mayor is not Ampatuan, not the whole clan, not Ampatuan my relatives. They are not the ones running this town. I run this town because I am Zamzamin not because I am Ampatuan. It is how it should be perceived. I hope the baggage attached attached to the (family name) is removed,”  he said in mixed English and Pilipino.

Andal Ampatuan, Sr.’s rise to power in the 1990s was consolidated under the nine-year Arroyo administration (2001-2010)  when he served as three-term governor and his son, Zaldy as governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Within that period, several towns were divided and new towns born with his sons and other relatives as mayor. But it was also under the Arroyo administration when Ampatuan Sr.’s family fell from power, in 2009 after the massacre of 58 persons, including the wife and sisters of  then Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu and 32 media workers. The victims were en route to the Commission on Elections provincial office in Shariff Aguak town to file Mangudadatu’s certificate of candidacy for governor.

Andal Ampatuan, Jr., who reportedly led the armed men in stopping the convoy, was supposed to run for governor in 2010.

Mangudadatu has just been elected to a second term. He won in this town.

Zamzamin acknowledges the “baggage” attached to his last name. “We cannot avoid that. We are Filipinos. We are Asians. We’ve been in the school of feudalism for centuries. Probably we are what we are as a nation because we were schooled in feudal perceptions. Tribes against tribes, clans against clans.  It’s still the same although you have to manage it. In fact, by managing it, you have to stand out. You perform. If you perform well, that’s the point of detachment from the stigma.”

Nobility in leadership

Zamzamin invoked  a Quranic verse which defines what people want, what governance should be in relation to faith in God.  He cited four points in the Sura Quoraish, Chapter 6:  nobility in leadership, a good road and a safe travel, freedom from hunger, and security from fear.

By “nobility of leader” he said the leader must have “hiya sa sarili” (a sense of shame) that when he promises, he must fulfill his promises.

“I promised that I will offer free surveying of lands for the delineation of boundaries to resolve conflicts…. to avert conflict among relatives. You offer free surveys so they can immediately get their tax declaration,” he said.

“If I do that, I will be famous but I will do that not because I want to be famous. If only leaders perform on key objectives, critical objectives, I think they will gain following to the point that people will believe in leadership.”

The reference to the Quoraish,  which he describes as “a clan among Arabs who are known for nobility and for being always in leadership position,” attracts the people because the religious theme in the campaign was fervent, he said.  “A true leader must be honorable. He must want what’s good for the the people and not what will benefit only himself. A leader who thinks only of himself  in the face of people’s suffering is shameful,” he said.

Rajah Buayan mayor-elect Zamzamin Ampatuan with his mother, Bai Puti Lumenda Ampatuan. MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano.
Rajah Buayan mayor-elect Zamzamin Ampatuan with his mother, Bai Puti Lumenda Ampatuan. MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano.

Do right

Zamzamin acknowledges the shameful image of the Ampatuans in politics although the younger ones are showing improvement. Two mayor-grandsons of Andal Sr.,  were awarded by President Aquino and Local Governments Secretary Jesse Robredo in June last year the Seal of Good Housekeeping for good governance performance in 2011: Mamasapano Mayor Tahirodin Benzar Ampatuan (reelected) and Datu Saudi Ampatuan Mayor Saudi Sean Ampatuan III (who did not run).  Only 13 of the 116 towns in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao were awarded the SGH.

Zamzamin said education has played a major factor. The Ampatuan Sr.’s grandsons went to the best schools. He said the grandsons had seen how bad it is without real governance. He said education and exposure to an environment that is “more or less civilized” have helped influence the grandsons’ performance in governance.

But Zamzamin is still viewed as the most competent Ampatuan voted to office. “It’s a challenge. I know that when I ran I did not need to promise because they say I am the most competent Ampatuan. But I did because I believe you have to do right. Because if that’s the impression (and if you don’t deliver) this would lead to frustration, the people might say ‘they’re really like that,’ so you have to do it, you have to start by setting your commitment and making it public. By your actions you prove to the people that you deserve their trust, that they are right in choosing the leader because the leader laid down what he promised to do.  You see, here (in Maguindanao), we do not have a history of leaders promising what to do.”

He said if a review were to be made of campaign speeches from provincial to local level, “commitment to public service is almost nothing.”

Most of the campaign speeches, he added, were about what the opponent failed to do. He said it is different when you promise, when you commit to something because you can be held accountable.


During the campaign, he narrated how he used the language of the masses by telling them during rallies that his opponents were “duwag” (cowards) because they do not commit and they do mot want to be held accountable.

He said he told the people he is not afraid to commit because “I am ready to face you” and that his constituents can go to the mayor’s office later and “tell me that I haven’t done what I have promised you.”

He said he promised transparent governance. “The first step to transparency is to commit to the people what you want to do. If you haven’t committed anything, that’s not being transparent.”

Zamzamin’s priority is the road, second is the land conflict issue.

He recognizes Maguindanao’s poverty incidence of 58 families out of 100 and thinks it’s “worse” in Rajah Buayan, a sixth class municipality, because “life is a bit laid back here although it is relatively peaceful.”

“Land issue is a problem, though, that’s why the agricultural lands are not so productive, which is very important to enhance purchasing power,” hence, the promised free land surveys.

But  Zamzamn says the poverty incidence here is not so glaring because people are not desperate. “There is no such thing as desperate poverty here.”

Zamzamin, who doesn’t’ carry a firearm and does not live in a mansion, acknowledges that the command vote is still there and money is still a factor in the elections.

He says he had a shoestring budget and nearly lost and would like to believe his “only capital” was his performance in his previous appointive posts and as incumbent barangay chair and head of all barangay captains in his town.

“The only solution to get money out of election is really to improve the lives of people,”  the mayor-elect said.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)